Erik Tornblom was a rising senior at Douglas Byrd High School in Cumberland County. On July 20, 1991 Erik worked at his summer job at a restaurant from 6 p.m. until midnight.
On the morning of July 21, he did not return home from work.
His body was discovered later that day. He had been shot in the face with a shotgun. A witness testified at trial that he observed a black man drive Erik’s car to the location where it was later recovered, get out of the vehicle, wipe off the steering wheel and the door handle.
The man was identified as Roderick Williams. He was arrested, and shortly thereafter named Marcus Robinson as his accomplice in the murder of Erik Tornblom. Robinson was taken into custody and properly advised of his Miranda rights, which he waived. After initially denying any involvement in the murder, Robinson admitted that he and Williams had watched Erik Tornblom enter a store.
While Tornblom was in the store, Robinson pulled out a sawed-off shotgun, which had been concealed in his clothes, and gave it to Williams. As Erik left the store, Robinson and Williams asked for a ride.
As soon as they entered the car, Williams put the gun to the back of Erik Tornblom’s neck and forced him to drive to a location that Robinson and Williams ordered.
In his confession, Robinson stated that “the boy kept begging and pleading for us not to hurt him, because he didn’t have any money.” After ordering Tornblom out of the car, the pair made him lie down. According to Robinson, Williams then shot Tornblom in the face with the shotgun.
Robinson then took Tornblom’s wallet and split the money with Williams. Robinson led police to where he had hidden the shotgun and also showed them where the spent shotgun shell was ejected. Both the gun and the spent shell were recovered by the police. Other evidence tended to show that two days prior to the murder Robinson told Williams’ aunt that “he was going to burn him a whitey”.
Williams was sentenced to life in prison as a result of his participation in the murder and Marcus Robinson was found guilty and sentenced to death for the shotgun murder of 17-year-old Erik Tornblom. In April of 2012, Robinson’s sentence was commuted to life without parole because of the 2011 version of the Racial Justice Act. Because of the repeal of the Racial Justice Act in SB 306 was signed into law in June of 2013, the fate of the Marcus Robinson is in the court system’s hands.
The Attorney General’s Office issued Civitas a statement on July 17, 2013 that reads:
Robinson’s case is pending review before the N.C. Supreme Court which granted review on 11 April 2013.
The Order issued in Cumberland County (by Judge Gregory Weeks) was the first grant of relief under the original RJA and was issued on April 20, 2012. The state (by the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office) petitioned the NC Supreme Court for review (Petition for Writ of Certiorari) on July 10, 2012. The state high court granted review on April 11 of this year . The state (by the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office) filed its brief on June 10. The defense response to the state’s brief was due on July 21 but the attorneys have sought an extension of time. The motion for extension of time is still pending before the NC Supreme Court, but if granted it would give Robinson until August 21 to file his response brief.
On 9 July, and pursuant to request by the Cumberland County District Attorney based upon Section 5( c) of Session Law 2013-154 (SB 306)), the NC Attorney General assumed primary responsibility for the Robinson case. His office filed a Notice of Representation before the NC Supreme Court on July 11.
Although the case has not yet been scheduled for oral argument, oral arguments are expected in the fall.
Could this be the first of many prior rulings on their way to reversal?